Honour and Shame in Women’s Sports

  • Katie Liston


This piece, first delivered as a keynote address, examines the role of honour and shame in understanding the many stories of women's involvement in sport in Ireland from the eighteenth century onwards, and especially in the modern era. While women's sporting involvement was regarded as shameful, especially in those sports imbued with traditional associated masculine norms, the prospect for women's sports is different today than in the past. Yet the struggle for honour is ongoing, seen in topical debates concerning gender quotas and the recommendations made by the Citizens Assembly on gender equality. Bringing the analysis up to date, the piece outlines ad hoc policy initiatives around gender equality in sport from the mid-2000s (in which the author was centrally involved) to the publication of the first formal statutory policy on women in sport, in 2019. Here it is argued that the guilt and shame of previous generations has influenced the public debate on gender quotas and it is as if, in the desire for perceived equality, the current generation of sportswomen do not wish to be associated with quotas. In this way, honour is conflated with merit. The piece concludes by suggesting that merit is honourable, personally, but equally, quotas are by no means shameful in public struggles.

Keywords: Women, Sport, Honour, Shame, Gender, Policy, Quotas, Ireland

How to Cite:

Liston, K., (2021) “Honour and Shame in Women’s Sports”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 7(1), 7-17. doi:

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Published on
03 Jun 2021
Peer Reviewed